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Five Ways To Ruin Your Career


What not to do in the workplace.


If you regularly clean out your desk after less than a year at a new job, recall your Shakespeare: "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves."

To succeed, you've got to understand your company's corporate culture and realize that underlings don't make the rules. Then you've got to put your understanding into practice through words and deeds.

"Longevity and a sense of personal fulfillment on the job calls for cultural consistency," says Dr. John Hoover, a Minyanville professor, member of Partners In Human Resources International and author of How to Work for an Idiot: Survive and Thrive Without Killing Your Boss. "No matter how skilled and intelligent you are, if the policymakers above you on the corporate food chain aren't comfortable with you, you won't be around for long. Like likes like: Looking like, dressing like, eating and chatting like those who hold your success in their hands will exponentially improve your chances of having success on the job."

Start with the basics: If you work for a button-down company, don't show up in ratty clothes boasting about your wild weekend. This just in: There's a difference between Google (GOOG), IBM (IBM), JPMorgan Chase (JPM) and newspaper publisher McClatchy (MNI) - and it's not just the industry.

The boss hired you because you have the skills needed to do the job. However, skill alone won't carry you to success. You need to be passionate about your work and show pride in it.
A good job comes with challenging assignments and engaging coworkers. Those with little experience routinely undercut themselves by yapping about having "fun" at work. If you're lucky, your office will be filled with quips, puns and wry comments, but remember that you were hired to make money for the company, not to play at your desk between weekends.

Staff meetings can lobotomize the spirit, but you've got to catch the rhythm of the weekly confab if you want to succeed. Think: Are the meetings formal or informal? Is it okay to work on a laptop and occasionally check your cell phone, or would that interrupt the boss's sermon?

Never mix your personal and professional lives. If there's trouble at home, limit your discussion at work to a close friend - and keep it short. No one else at work needs to know about your troubles - and no one wants to know. In any case, lamentations about the sad state of affairs at home won't boost your standing with the boss.

In most cases, no single mistake will get you fired, but continued inattention to little things will pile up and slowly erode your position. Before you know it, you'll be cleaning out your desk again - even if you didn't call the boss an insufferable brain-dead, no-talent boob.

Some people never learn from their mistakes and a few refuse to learn. But why sweat the details? If you want to torpedo your career, here's how to do it in five easy steps:

  • Make it clear that you're working just for the paycheck and, come to think of it, you're woefully underpaid. Money first is a classic trait of a clock-puncher. All you'll do if you adopt this stance is kill your chances for challenging assignments and advancement.

  • Devote a major portion of your day to idle chitchat and gossiping about others. There's always someone in the office who knows the dirt. Become that person and advertise the fact through endless emails, phone calls and gab fests at the water cooler. This will get you noticed by the boss.

  • Missing deadlines is a great way to carve out an identity with the honcho and your fellow underlings. The boss may think work is important, but you know better: The world revolves around you and you were just too busy with important stuff to get the task done. Expect this to be noted in your annual performance review - if you last that long.

  • Lesser creatures bleat that egomaniacs are boring, trivial and obnoxious people. But you know better as you scale the heights of the temple you're erecting in the office to honor yourself. In any case, what have experienced employees, especially geezers, got to teach you?

  • Steal your colleagues' ideas and take credit for their work. You're too busy yakking with fellow desk jockeys to come up with anything on your own, let alone turn the wheels. Your fellow workers will have the long knives out, but what do you care as long as the boss thinks you're golden?

The bottom line: Those who think teamwork is for chumps are almost certainly chumps and the few who aren't chumps are just unconscious and will never understand why they're cleaning out their desk - again.

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